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Paul Davies: Media didn't ignore Rendell rumors

Political insiders and journalists who have followed Ed Rendell’s career from district attorney to mayor to governor may not have been surprised that he and his wife are separating after almost 40 years of marriage — and just weeks after his term as governor ended.

Political insiders and journalists who have followed Ed Rendell's career from district attorney to mayor to governor may not have been surprised that he and his wife are separating after almost 40 years of marriage — and just weeks after his term as governor ended.

But the news probably shocked many taxpayers and voters who were not as privy to the rumors of infidelity that have followed Rendell for years.

In the wake of the news, some have criticized the media for not doing more to pursue the story while Rendell was in office. That begs two questions: Did the media go easy on Rendell? Is Rendell's private life news?

The answer to both questions, to me at least, is a mix of yes and no.

Rendell's rumored involvement with other women — though never proven — has long been a focus of discussion and bemusement by political junkies and journalists.

Over the years, some incidents have been reported on or referenced in print. The reports usually contained strong denials from Rendell. None of the stories ever proved he was romantically involved with any of the other women or that it affected his job.

Should the media have dug deeper? I don't believe any liberal media bias caused reporters to ignore the rumors. I do, however, think Rendell received mostly favorable coverage in the media.

There are several reasons for that. As mayor, he helped resurrect a broke city — no small feat. Rendell's success revitalizing Philadelphia overshadowed other failures and generated lots of positive press.

Rendell was also very accessible to reporters, and worked with his handlers to effectively get his story out. He was colorful, quotable, and likable, which usually translates into favorable coverage.

However, there were attempts over the years by reporters to pursue Rendell's alleged skirt-chasing. I know because I was involved in some of the efforts years ago when I worked at the Daily News.

None of the stories panned out. One reason is that maybe they weren't true. More broadly, allegations of infidelity are difficult to prove without credible sources willing to talk, or other evidence, such as e-mail, court documents, or a blue dress.

However, it's usually not from a lack of effort. Any good reporter, regardless of his political leaning, wants to break a big story, if true. Just ask Gary Hart or Eliot Spitzer.

Last summer, I asked Rendell about his decision to hire Carl Greene, the former head of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, given the previous sexual-harassment complaint against Greene in Detroit, and the rumors of other women that dogged him almost as soon as he hit town.

Rendell responded that all of the rumors about Greene at the time were unsubstantiated. Without prompting, Rendell added: "If half the rumors about me were true, I'd be in the Smithsonian." (I noted that he stopped at half.)

Even if one of the rumors is true, the other question is this: Is it news?

In my mind, it's only a story if it affects the official's job performance or decisions; if he is abusing his power by pressuring or harassing a woman or subordinate; or if the person he is having the affair with is benefiting at taxpayers' expense, such as through a job or contract.

Those connections were never made with regards to Rendell. Short of that, it seems that if a public official is running around but doing his job, then it's an issue for him and his wife to sort out.

The other issue for Rendell is that he brought much of the attention on himself.

As mayor, he was often spotted around the city with Holly Kinser, a lobbyist who was then married to and later divorced from former House Speaker Bill DeWeese. Both denied an affair.
As governor, a photo of Rendell at a Pirates game with a former television news anchor-turned-lobbyist raised eyebrows. Both denied an inappropriate relationship.

On primary election day last May, Rendell went to the Famous 4th Street Deli with Kirstin Snow, a Miss Pennsylvania in 1994 and Mrs. Pennsylvania in 2005.

A photo in the Daily News of the two seated together fueled rumors, as did a sighting of Rendell and Snow at her son's soccer game.

Philadelphia Magazine published a story in which Rendell and Snow denied rumors of an affair. The story included a photo of the two posing together as if it were a holiday greeting card.
Snow worked for the state but left her position on Jan.18, the same day Rendell left office. Three weeks later Rendell and his wife announced they were separating.


All of those details have been previously published. So it's not as if the media ignored the story. But despite Rendell's decades in public life, I don't think anyone knows the story of the former governor in full. Though it probably wouldn't interest the Smithsonian.

E-mail deputy editorial page editor Paul Davies at pdavies@phillynews.com.

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